Is the individual investor gone for good?
The protagonist of one of Wall Street's greatest stories -- the do-it-yourself stock picker -- has been disappearing and may never come back.
By Jim Cramer, TheStreet
Is there a level at which the "people" will come back to stocks? Is there a level at which the "excitement" will return? I have been harping on Dow 11,000 as a key level that I think will make people feel better because of their stock portfolios -- they'll feel richer.
But as for the actual challenge of getting people to invest in individual stocks and to figure out ways to make money in them, I don't know. I think that game is shrinking because of the remarkable beating that individuals have suffered over the past decade.
You see, I believe people still considered stocks worth owning after the 2000 Nasdaq ($COMPX) crash because many big caps didn't surrender gains. I think they were persuaded to keep stocks through even the incredibly harrowing 2007-09 adventures, when the market fell to the generational low of 2009 (which Doug Kass so ably called).
But the past 15 to 16 months have been different. The individual alternately has been crowded out by exchange-traded funds or has embraced them as some sort of security blanket. We don't know who uses them. And more importantly, the "flash crash" was a kind of last-straw death knell for the individual stock picker. After all, it's been two decades of misery, and after a while, it's simply too hard to trust the asset class.
That's where we are now. Believe me, I don't want it, I don't wish it. Nevertheless, it has happened. The individual investor period lasted a very long time, arguably from 1991, when I think things began to take off, until last year. But it peaked a decade ago, and it has been going downhill ever since.
This individual stock-picking wave is not a cyclical phenomenon. It is a secular one. There's plenty of money around -- witness the big cash and CD positions. However, it hasn't come back to individual stocks.
Can it change? Anything is possible. Nonetheless, the hero of what had been a great story -- the do-it-yourself investor -- seems to be a shrinking breed, with ETFs, cash and bonds taking the place of the once-hallowed individual equity class.
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John Stumpf acknowledges that growth has been slow, but he says he's still optimistic.
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